High bills and energy debt fuelling a women’s mental health crisis

Over one in ten UK women (14%) have been in energy debt in the last six months – with nearly a third (29%) of those worried about paying their bills, and 19% suffering sleepless nights.

Nine percent even say it has made them ill, with 6% missing work because of stress, according to new research from the Women’s Institute (WI) published during Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13 to May 19). 

The survey was commissioned by Warm This Winter for The WI and polled over a thousand women across the UK. Its aim was to assess the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on women – financially and from a mental health viewpoint. 

In further key findings, 15% of women are either considering or have skipped meals to make ends meet, one in eight now considers relying on foodbanks and 14% have given up their hobbies, which in turn affects mental health.

Melissa Green, National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) CEO said: 

“Our research shows that the cost-of-living crisis deeply affects women, who often take on the mental load of running a household on top of their jobs. 

“We all know and feel the financial impact, but it’s desperately worrying to see women skipping meals, cutting back on essentials, or borrowing just to make ends meet. Overall, 60% said that 2023 had been a more difficult year than 2022 – which is a depressing statistic.”

Fiona Waters from Warm This Winter said:

“The survey indicates that women can see that the UK’s energy system is broken and want long term solutions such as 73% calling for properly funded insulation and renewable energy schemes that will end the vicious circle of sky high bills. They also want the UK to move away from being so dependent on expensive gas for our energy, which harms the climate, creates insecurity and inflates bills.”[1]

The research by Opinium also found that over two-thirds (68 percent) felt there should be financial support for vulnerable people such as children, the ill or elderly, to help with their energy bills. Respondents also felt that the recent £28 additional charge being levied by Ofgem to help energy suppliers recover energy debt should be spent on helping people to repay their debt (38%) or even write off customer debt (20 percent) altogether.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Campaign commented:

“People have spent over three years facing sky high energy bills and are no longer prepared to put up with increases in their bills to line the pockets of an energy industry which has made billions from the energy costs crisis. What people want to see are a mixture of long term solutions to fix Britain’s broken energy system and short term support for those who need extra help with their bills.”

Melissa Green, NFWI CEO said these findings are ‘a clear clarion call’: 

“With 15% of women in fuel poverty telling us they are borrowing money from friends or family, and 20% again in energy debt – using overdrafts and credit cards to cover their bills – there is much more that policy makers can do to make companies work for their customers; and not simply shareholders. Women are the change-makers here, representing just over half of UK eligible voters. It’s time to hold those in power to account – which the WI has never shied away from doing.”

ENDS

[1] The majority of women feel the UK’s energy system is broken (60 percent) and want to see real change with nearly three quarters (73 percent) calling for proper financial help to insulate homes and 71 percent asking for more investment in homegrown renewable energy that would improve the UK’s energy security.  Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) also want to see a ‘proper plan’ in place to phase out gas powered energy plants.

Public opinion polling from Opinium who interviewed 2,000 people between 15 and 19 March 2024. Results were weighted to be representative of the UK population.

Energy debt causing households to live in fear of loan sharks

Households in energy debt are turning to illegal money lenders to pay for their bills and everyday essentials, according to new research shared with the House of Commons Energy Security and Net Zero Committee today.

Research among households in energy debt by the Warm This Winter campaign, found that almost one in five (18%) have turned to illegal money lending sources in the last 12 months. [1]

Among younger households in debt the situation is even worse, with a quarter (24%) of under 35s and a third (32%) of customers aged 35-44 turning to illegal money lending.

In the next 12 months, the illegal debt mountain is due to grow with two-thirds of households in energy debt due to look for more sources of money. While many will turn to credit cards (27%) and overdrafts (14%), 20% will borrow from family and 14% will turn to illegal money lenders.

The impact on households is that 13% of customers in energy debt owe money to someone they are frightened of. This figure rises to 18% among those living with long-term illness and in households with young children under the age of 5.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition gave evidence to the Committee and presented them with the research findings:

“The findings are horrific and worse than experts had feared. 

“Energy debt is forcing households to wake up in the morning scared of the consequences of using electricity or gas.

“Energy bills and energy debt are a fundamental part of our broken energy system which has led to the cold damp homes crisis we saw this winter. 

“The long term solutions are obviously wider than changes to standing charges and tariff reform. We need to see more insulation, ventilation, unblocked cheaper renewables and weaning ourselves off oil and gas to improve energy security.”

The Committee also heard that Time of Use tariffs, one of the main proposed solutions to high energy bills, risk leaving behind millions of households. Research by Survation for campaign group 38 Degrees found that over half (54%) of the public may become energy exiles – unable to access the latest market innovations due to their household circumstances. [2]

Veronica Hawking, acting campaigns director at 38 Degrees said:

“This research shows millions could miss out on time-specific tariffs designed to lower bills, through absolutely no fault of their own. This includes people who rely on energy for medical needs, who need to leave the house at a regular time of day, or who can’t access a smart meter.

“That’s why it’s crucial that any changes to our broken energy system must be underpinned by a social tariff, and why the government’s U-turn on a social tariff consultation was a huge missed opportunity. Whoever forms the next government must make it an absolute priority.”

As well as introducing a social tariff and banning discriminatory energy tariffs, the Committee heard recommendations on tackling the energy debt crisis. These included:

  1. A universal, consistent, nationwide, debt matching programme funded by the £1.3bn customers are paying through our bills for energy debt costs this year.
  2. A ban on energy firms from selling on debt to debt collectors.
  3. Better regulation of energy debt with energy debt and debt collection agencies used by energy firms to be subject to Financial Conduct Authority rules.
  4. More training for energy firms’ staff in recognising illegal money lending.
  5. Reforms to standing charges, including their abolition for prepayment meter customers if certain conditions are met. [3]

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters said: 

“We like to think of ourselves as a civilised society but surely having heat and power is a fundamental human right for everyone and the idea that people are so desperate they are turning to dangerous loan sharks is horrific. 

“It’s extremely worrying to see a quarter of under 35 year-olds in energy debt have no way out other than turning to illegal money lending. This is setting themselves up for a lifetime of being at the mercy of loan sharks and their ilk and I dread to think of the impact this has on young families. 

“We need a government that won’t abandon people with unaffordable energy bills and will instead invest in permanent solutions, like home insulation and homegrown renewable energy.”

Jonathan Bean, from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“Energy inequality is growing to dangerous levels, with millions of us starved of energy or forced into dangerous borrowing. We need a fairer system where everyone is safe, and has access to cheap renewable energy.”

ENDS

[1] Research was conducted among 500 people across the UK living with energy debt. The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research between April and May 2024 using an email invitation and an online survey. 

Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. In this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 4.4 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample. Sample was selected from Online partner panels. 

[2] Survation polling for 38 Degrees. Survation polled 2,018 members of the general public, online between 26-29 April. Data were weighted to the profile of individuals aged 18+ in UK. Data were weighted by age, sex,  region, ethnicity, education level, and annual household income. The total includes those who are unable to access smart meters, rely on energy for medical or disability needs, have inefficient heating or who are unable to control when they use electrical appliances.

[3] Campaigners have called for reform of standing charges so that:

  • Investment and all policy costs are moved onto general taxation (and an end to the Ofgem “float and true up process”)
  • Reductions in marketing, operating, headroom and EBIT allowances for suppliers and moving marketing and operating costs onto unit charges to improve market competitiveness.
  • Review the £30bn profits in the network and transmission sector and examine the impact of moving network costs onto unit charges.
  • After reforms and reductions in charges, the end to PPM standing charges should be possible, subject to further analysis and equalities impact assessments.

MSPs must act to help end cold homes crisis

Members of the Scottish Parliament have been urged to put political differences aside to unite in support measures that will help end fuel poverty.

In a letter sent to all MSPs, politicians have been asked to ensure the next First Minister does not abandon government policies which could help end the cold damp homes crisis.

For over 400,000 Scots, their homes are almost uninhabitable due to the cold and damp

The letter, signed by leading civil society organisations and coordinated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition and Energy Action Scotland, warns that among the most vulnerable, the crisis is even worse. 

New figures from research among Social Workers Union members has found that 69% of Scottish social workers have seen the people they support living in cold damp homes.

The letter states that the health complications of this are potentially serious: “Everyone remembers the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, but people young and old, with disabilities or with a range of health conditions are at risk.”

The campaigners have demanded that MSPs from across all parties to unite in support of:

  1. A Heat in Buildings Bill which is ambitious in its vision for improving the energy efficiency and insulation of the nation’s homes and contains a clear fuel poverty duty enshrined in the legislation.
  2. The current Housing Bill that will enhance tenants’ rights and provide financial protections for tenants during the ongoing cost of living crisis.
  3. Additional Government support in future budgets and legislation to help households cope with the cost of living crisis.
  4. Reintroducing the Fuel Insecurity Fund to help at least those most at risk of harm and struggling in energy debt.
  5. The new Pension Age Winter Heating Payment being fundamentally better targeted than the Winter Fuel Payment that it replaces.
  6. A strengthened framework of support for the renewables and offshore wind sectors and the fastest possible “just transition” for the oil and gas sector, as described in the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“Any further delays to boosting energy efficiency plans, protecting tenants rights and organising financial support for the most vulnerable will hit households hard.

“We need MSPs to come together and unite on a programme that will tackle the long term causes of Scotland’s cold homes crisis and provide emergency support to those most at risk next winter.”

Other groups signing the letter range from the Poverty Alliance and the Disability Poverty Campaign Group to Fathers Network Scotland, the National Pensioners Convention and Parents for Future Scotland. 

Local groups such as Aberdeen Heat & Power, East Kilbride Housing Association, Musselburgh Food Pantry, Stirling District Citizens Advice and Tighean Innse Gall have also backed the letter.

One signatory, Gaynor Allen from Sustaining Musselburgh, which is organising an event to help East Lothian residents find out how to make their homes warmer and less expensive to heat on 1st June, said:

“Everyday we hear more shocking stories of the hardships people are facing due to high energy bills and poorly insulated homes. We need both the UK and Scottish Governments to prioritise the short term and long term solutions to fix people’s cold homes.”

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters, added:

“What voters really care about is the cost of living crisis driven by high energy bills that is still putting unbearable pressure on millions of households around the country.

“We need governments in each nation who will prioritise fixing our broken energy system by getting us off expensive oil and gas and onto cheap, homegrown renewables and by properly insulating our leaky housing stock to bring down bills for good.

“Politicians should not lose sight of that or they will pay at the ballot box.”

To read the full letter, click here.

Surge in energy exit fees since 2021

Bill payers risk being stuck on expensive fixed rate energy tariffs or with poor customer service as exit fees have increased by 345% in the last three years.

Around three million UK households have opted for fixed energy tariffs and the latest Warm This Winter Tariff Watch report shows that the majority have exit fees of more than £100.

The report also reveals 76% of fixed tariffs have annual costs of £1,690 or more meaning they will pay more than the current price cap. The most expensive tariff is a 2 year fixed at £1,712 a year for a typical household – leaving them £84 worse off and with extortionate exit fees of  £300.

More broadly, researchers found that exit fees have dramatically increased from an average of £42.06 in early 2021 to a peak of £187.21 on average today (a 345% increase).

High tariffs and high exit fees mean that some customers will be worse off and unable to switch to a cheaper tariff because fees would wipe out any potential savings from moving supplier. It also acts as a trap for those customers who have had poor customer service and are unable to switch supplier.

In the latest edition of Tariff Watch compiled by Future Energy Associates (FEA) who analysed the best deals on the market for customers warns that households could end up worse off if they fix now, even with the latest forecasts that prices could rise again slightly later this year. 

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented: 

“Exit fees have gone from a minor irritation to a serious concern. Customers who have had poor customer service may now find themselves trapped with their supplier due to these penalties.

“The energy industry is quick to promote the idea that switching will save you money, but the reality is that the small print could leave struggling customers out of pocket.

“Households who are suffering the most are often the ones looking for the most security through a fixed tariff, but we would urge them to only fix if they are absolutely certain it is the right thing to do.

“Checking your bill to get your existing usage numbers and entering these details into price comparison sites is one way of testing the market – but always check that exit fees are under £100.”

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters said:

“Yet again energy suppliers are letting customers down with many stuck in fixed rate deals they can’t get out of because of extortionate exit fees and it’s Hobson’s choice for those who want the peace of mind of a fixed rate but will probably end up worse off later in the year.

“It’s just ridiculous and unnecessary that bill payers have to navigate such a complex tariff system where they get ripped off at every level, from rising standing charges to profiteering gas companies, and still face bills that are 60 percent higher than three years ago.

“We need long term solutions from government such as expanding homegrown renewable energy and a mass programme of insulation to bring down bills once and for all.”

Future Energy Associates analyst Dylan Johnson, who helped compile the report, said: 

“While we have seen the return of competitive market conditions we are worried about certain consumer groups being left behind. Our data shows evidence that specific suppliers are raising prices in certain regions to absurd levels.”

ENDS

Relevant to England, Scotland and Wales only. For full details, methodology and sources, the full report is available to download: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Tariff_Watch_4_Final.pdf

Energy profits hit £420bn in recent years as standing charges rise

Energy giants have pocketed over £420 billion in profits since the energy crisis started according to a new analysis of company reports. [1]

Researchers examined the declared profits of firms ranging from energy producers (such as Equinor and Shell) through to the firms that control our energy grid (such as National Grid, UK Power Networks and Cadent) as well as suppliers (such as British Gas).

Around £30 billion of these profits (the equivalent of over £1,000 per household) are thought to be made by the firms and business units responsible for electricity and gas transmission and distribution.

These are the “network costs” consumers pay for maintaining the pipes and wires of the energy system and are usually paid for through standing charges on energy bills.

Electricity standing charges have surged in recent years and from 1 April will be 147% higher than in 2021 – powered by fees such as the 14 hidden charges on every bill for network costs.

Gas standing charges have increased by 15% since 2021, but a recent report for the Warm This Winter campaign found that the network costs for gas are charged differently, through both gas unit costs and standing charges.

Researchers found that the estimated price each household contributes on gas network costs has risen from £118.53 a year in 2021 to £163.69 a year from 1 April 2024 (a 38% increase).

From 1 April the costs that households pay for every unit of energy they use will decrease slightly – but are still almost double what they were in 2021. But standing charges will rise. Compared to the previous quarter, electricity standing charges go up 13% and gas standing charges increase 6%.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“The energy firms are taking us for April fools.

“As standing charges go up today, households will have to cut back on their energy use just to keep their bills the same. This means households continue to suffer as a few energy firms make billions in profits.

“These numbers may look like fantastic amounts to shareholders, but the reality is that these profits have caused pain and suffering among people living in fuel poverty for the last few years.”

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters said:

“The public are beyond frustrated at being a cash machine for companies who use our broken energy system to cream as much profits as they can out of them, while hard working people are up to their eyeballs in energy debt and fat cat bosses splurge their excessive wealth on luxuries.

“This data should put to bed any final opposition to a proper Windfall Tax on energy firms which ministers must use to help people who are still paying 60 percent more than they were on their energy bills three years ago.

“We need to stop pandering to these profiteers and focus on expanding homegrown renewable energy and a mass programme of insulation to bring down energy bills for good.”

ENDS

[1] The data was compiled from publicly available accounts and financial statements, using the best available measure of company profits by a freelance city journalist. These measures differ from company to company due to reporting processes and regulatory requirements in different jurisdictions. In determining which measure of profitability to use, the research has prioritised the measure preferred in the company’s own accounts.

Table 1: GROUP RESULTS FOR FIRMS PROFITING FROM ENERGY CRISIS

COMPANY (profit type) Financial Year (FY) ending in 2020 FY ending in 2021 FY ending in 2022 FY ending in 2023 FY ending in 2024 [interims where available] TOTAL SINCE ENERGY BILLS CRISIS
SSE (Group – Pretax profit adjusted) £1,023,400,000 £1,064,900,000 £1,164,000,000 £2,183,600,000 £565,200,000 £6,001,100,000
Cadent (Group – Operating profit) £924,000,000 £901,000,000 £685,000,000 £945,000,000.00 £2,510,000,000
Electricity North West (Pre tax profit) £87,000,000 £145,600,000 £64,800,000 £26,000,000 £195,000,000 £518,400,000
Northern Powergrid (Net income / earnings) £158,790,000 £195,130,000 £304,150,000 £136,670,000 £794,740,000
National Gas Transmission (Operating profit) £475,000,000 £484,000,000 £512,000,000 £619,000,000 £2,090,000,000
UK Power Networks (EBITDA) £1,270,200,000 £1,294,300,000 £1,328,900,000 £1,410,400,000 £5,303,800,000
Northern Gas Networks (Group Operating Profit) £213,246,000.00 £157,642,000.00 £151,142,000 £210,687,000 £361,829,000
SGN (Operating profits) £600,600,000 £526,500,000 £364,300,000 £439,500,000 £1,930,900,000
Ovo Energy (Operating profits) -£238,000,000 £367,000,000 -£1,582,000,000 -£1,453,000,000
Octopus Energy (Operating profits) -£47,910,000 -£117,400,000 -£188,400,000 £243,300,000 -£110,410,000
Shell (Profit/Adjusted Earnings) £3,828,340,000 £15,238,310,000 £31,497,300,000 £22,317,500,000 £11,628,800,000 £84,510,250,000
BP (Underlying Replacement Cost Profit (URCP)) -£4,495,100,000 £10,123,850,000 £21,845,870,000 £10,930,440,000 £38,405,060,000
Equinor (Adjusted Earnings) £3,111,020,000 £26,453,940,000 £59,202,600,000 £28,613,800,000 £117,381,360,000
Centrica (Adjusted Operating Profit) £447,000,000 £948,000,000 £3,308,000,000 £2,752,000,000 £7,455,000,000
National Grid (Statutory Pre-Tax Profit) £1,754,000,000 £2,083,000,000 £3,441,000,000 £3,590,000,000 £1,371,000,000 £10,156,000,000
EDF (EBITDA) £13,909,640,000 £15,484,300,000 -£4,287,960,000 £34,314,000,000 £13,851,160,000 £73,271,140,000
EON (EBITDA) £5,938,300,000 £6,784,540,000 £6,930,740,000 £8,058,200,000 £27,711,780,000
Iberdrola (EBITDA) £8,608,772,000 £10,324,902,000 £11,376,166,000 £12,398,620,000 £42,708,460,000
Drax (Group – pre tax profit) -£235,000,000 £122,000,000 £78,000,000 £796,000,000 £761,000,000
Wales & West (pre tax profit) -£24,400,000 £25,900,000 -£176,900,000 £263,100,000 £87,700,000
TOTAL PROFIT £420,395,109,000.00

Table 2: RESULTS FOR FIRMS OR BUSINESS UNITS INVOLVED IN GAS AND ELECTRICITY DISTRIBUTION AND TRANSMISSION (i.e. network costs)

COMPANY Type FY ending in 2020 FY ending in 2021 FY ending in 2022 FY ending in 2023 FY ending in 2024 [interims where available] TOTAL SINCE ENERGY BILLS CRISIS
SSE E Transmission £218,100,000.00 £220,900,000.00 £380,500,000.00 £372,700,000.00 £215,600,000.00 £1,407,800,000.00
SSE E Distribution £356,300,000.00 £267,300,000.00 £351,800,000.00 £382,400,000.00 £120,100,000.00 £1,477,900,000.00
Cadent G Transmission & Distribution £924,000,000.00 £901,000,000.00 £685,000,000.00 £945,000,000.00 £2,510,000,000.00
Electricity North West E Distribution £87,000,000.00 £145,600,000.00 £64,800,000.00 £26,000,000.00 £195,000,000.00 £518,400,000.00
Northern Powergrid E Distribution £158,790,000.00 £195,130,000.00 £304,150,000.00 £136,670,000.00 £794,740,000.00
National Gas G Transmission & Distribution £475,000,000.00 £484,000,000.00 £512,000,000.00 £619,000,000.00 £2,090,000,000.00
UK Power Networks E Distribution £1,270,200,000.00 £1,294,300,000.00 £1,328,900,000.00 £1,410,400,000.00 £5,303,800,000.00
Northern Gas Networks G Transmission & Distribution £213,246,000.00 £157,642,000.00 £151,142,000.00 £210,687,000.00 £361,829,000.00
SGN G Transmission & Distribution £543,000,000.00 £509,000,000.00 £339,000,000.00 £452,000,000.00 £256,000,000.00 £2,099,000,000.00
National Grid E Transmission £1,316,000,000.00 £1,027,000,000.00 £1,055,000,000.00 £993,000,000.00 £838,000,000.00 £5,229,000,000.00
National Grid G Transmission & Distribution £347,000,000.00 £337,000,000.00 £637,000,000.00 £715,000,000.00 £2,036,000,000.00
National Grid E Distribution £909,000,000.00 £1,069,000,000.00 £472,000,000.00 £2,450,000,000.00
National Grid E Systems £443,000,000.00 £443,000,000.00
SP Energy Networks E Distribution £860,000,000.00 £905,408,000.00 £940,238,000.00 £1,059,348,000.00 £3,764,994,000.00
Wales & West G Distribution -£24,400,000.00 £25,900,000.00 -£176,900,000.00 £263,100,000.00 £87,700,000.00
TOTAL PROFIT £30,486,463,000.00
Cost per household £1,051.26

Data as at 26 March 2024.

The data was compiled by freelance business journalist David Craik. David’s experience has included writing business and city news and features for national newspapers and magazines such as The Daily Mirror, Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal, Scotsman and Daily Express. Much of his content focuses on company financial results and reports in the energy sector and on personal finance issues including wealth management, property, investing and managing household budgets and bills. If any firm wishes to correct the records below, please email info@endfuelpoverty.org.uk.

Customers set for £1.3bn bill for energy debt charges

Households will be paying energy firms a combined £1.3bn in annual charges to help suppliers recover bad debt from 1 April.

A new report from the Warm This Winter campaign also casts doubt on the effectiveness of the charges in actually helping customers struggling with their bills. [1]

Energy firms were already able to charge £842m a year on bills for bad debt allowances, but from 1 April 2024 Ofgem has ruled that an additional £735m can be charged (or £28 per household per year). The amounts are offset by a £275m adjustment to the bad debt charges incurred after the Covid pandemic. 

The combined impact of these charges varies depending on the bill type with prepayment meter customers paying the least at £25.17 per household per year. Direct debit customers pay £38.96 a year on these charges while standard credit customers are hit hardest paying £129.71.

The report also reveals that “debt-related costs” consist of three main elements: bad debt write offs, debt related administrative costs and working capital. It appears unclear if these write offs will come off customers’ accounts, or if they are written off on supplier income statements while the debt is sold to debt collection agencies.

In addition, the debt related administrative costs and working capital include recouping the costs of the moratorium on involuntary prepayment meter installations. The moratorium was brought in after it was found energy firms were breaking into vulnerable people’s homes to force them onto a prepayment meter.

Firms can also claim for the administrative costs to suppliers from dealing with customers in debt, despite other allowances in the price cap enabling them to cover operating costs. The allowances also allow firms to claim for the day-to-day costs of customer arrears and using the money to cover the period between an energy firm incurring costs and receiving customer payments.

The news has been met with concern from consumers, with new polling from Opinium finding that over half (55%) of the public oppose energy firms using money raised through the additional £28 per household being spent on debt administrative costs. [2]

The public felt that around half (48%) of the money raised from the £28 debt charge should be spent writing off household energy debt of the customer accounts of those most in need.

Fiona  Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign commented:

“Energy bill payers are quite rightly up in arms about these additional costs which look like they do nothing to reduce the debt of ordinary people but instead help energy companies pursue those who simply can’t pay.

“It’s yet another outrageous rip off caused by our broken energy system, where ordinary people are expected to foot the bill all the time whilst energy giants bank billions and their bosses live in the lap of luxury.

“We need long term solutions such as expanding homegrown renewable energy and a mass programme of insulation to bring down energy bills for good so UK families no longer find themselves in debt through no fault of their own and are hounded for payments.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, said:

“The recovery of energy debt led to the forced prepayment meters scandal in 2023 and customers are still paying the price for energy firms’ poor practices.

“Rather than hit hard pressed households with higher standing charges, we need to see a longer-term approach to solving the energy debt mountain, such as an industry wide Help To Repay scheme.

“If Ofgem persists in implementing this charge, the very least they can do is ensure it is used to write off debts from customer accounts and isn’t spent on hiring debt collection agencies.”

Policy expert and report author Richard Winstone, added:

“Ofgem produced over 350 pages of documentation to reach a conclusion that will cost the public hundreds of millions of pounds extra this year with no clear benefit for consumers. They pack their documents with complicated jargon and formulae, yet they could not find room for a simple explanation as to how this money will actually benefit those struggling with their energy bills. 

“Throwing money at suppliers and hoping they do the right thing is what has led to record profit levels from the likes of British Gas at a time when customer service standards are at their lowest for a decade and customer debt is at its highest. Ofgem either needs to stop increasing the cost to consumers or start creating regulation that ensures suppliers use the additional funds for specific, consumer-benefitting, purposes.”

Jan Shortt, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, commented:

“As always, it is the customer that pays, not the shareholders or energy industry who are currently making the biggest profits for years. Sustainable and affordable energy sources are a must and the regulator should consider how it can protect customers from this unacceptable level of levy when everyone is still struggling with high energy bills.”

ENDS

[1] “An overview of the additional debt related costs”, Richard Winstone / Warm This Winter, March 2024. Full report available to download

[2] Public opinion polling from Opinium who interviewed 2,000 people between 15 and 19 March 2024. Results were weighted to be representative of the UK population.

55% oppose using the money to cover admin costs, 25% support, 20% don’t know.

48% figure is based on respondents choosing a range of percentages to be used to write off debt. The figure includes the responses from 16% who felt none of the money should be used in this way, 16% felt all of the money raised should be used in this way. 

Hikes in gas network costs see vampire funds profit from energy crisis

British households are boosting the profits of Chinese and Qatari Government-backed funds, which are among the groups benefiting from a 38% increase in the costs of running the country’s gas network.

A new report from the Warm This Winter campaign and Future Energy Associates has examined the ownership and revenue streams of firms running the nation’s gas infrastructure. [1]

The cost of running the gas network is charged to customers through gas unit costs and standing charges. The estimated price each household contributes has risen from £118.53 a year in 2021 to £163.69 a year from 1 April 2024 (a 38% increase). [2]

Unit costs are also driven by wholesale gas costs. Gas unit costs paid by households more than tripled at the height of the energy bills crisis and even after the latest Ofgem price cap change, every unit of gas remains 73% above 2021 levels. The daily gas standing charges customers face have also continued to increase and will not peak until the coming months, reaching 15% above 2021 levels from 1 April 2024. [3]

Of the significant owners of gas infrastructure operators, just one company is headquartered in the UK [4]. Among the 12 other owners are the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and China, investment firms from Australia, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and the USA alongside additional Australian and Canadian pension funds.

Among the firms profiting from the misery of increased energy bills is Macquarie, the Australian finance giant at the centre of recent Southern Water and Thames Water scandals. [5]

Macquaire co-owns 80% of National Gas, the national gas network as well as part-owning the UK’s largest regional gas distribution network company, Cadent, which supplies gas to 11 million homes. 

The report sets out that Gas Distribution Networks (GDNs) operate as natural monopolies and that the complexity in negotiations between the regulator and the firms risks tilting the balance in favour of the industry, potentially leading to excess profits at the expense of consumers.

Among the criticisms of the negotiation process are the reliance on long-term cost forecasting, informational advantage firms hold over their costs and their ability to hire expensive lobbyists and consultants which poses a risk of regulatory decisions favouring the industry, resulting in unjustifiably high prices for consumers and excess profits for the companies.

Starting from 2026, energy consumers could also face an annual bill increase of up to £43 to fund the decommissioning of the gas network, as highlighted in a new Ofgem consultation on price controls for gas and electricity transmission networks. 

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter campaign, which commissioned the report said: 

“Once again the British public is being gaslighted by an opaque and broken energy system which sees huge amounts of obscene profits going overseas and inflates bills for ordinary people who are still paying 60% more than they did three years ago. 

“Families, pensioners, children and the poor are freezing as energy companies generate billions of pounds in profit each and every week.”

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“This murky web of international investors with deep pockets and influence are heaping pain on the nation’s households.

“The regulator is operating with one hand tied behind its back and it needs to be given powers to ensure that the firms that operate our gas network do so in the best interests of the public, not their shadowy owners.

“Ultimately, this is an industry that is dying on its feet as we move toward cleaner, safer heating systems for our homes. But we should not let these vampire funds suck cash out of hard working families’ pockets as they decommission the network.”

Dylan Johnson from Future Energy Associates commented:

“Government regulation is crucial to control the prices charged by these companies, ensuring efficiency and security of supply without unfairly burdening consumers. 

“This regulatory process involves negotiations between the companies, who aim to maximise their profits, and regulators, tasked with balancing affordable consumer prices with the need for efficient and reliable service. 

“At the moment the balance is not right and the regulator needs to take a stronger stance in negotiations.”

Jonathan Bean, from Fuel Poverty Action said: 

“It’s frightening that the Government has let a notorious investor take control of a large chunk of our energy infrastructure.  It means higher energy bills for us all.”

The report makes several recommendations for Ofgem to consider, including proposals to deliver immediate consumer rebates by network companies to address profits not in consumers’ interests and the use of real market data instead of long-term forecasts. 

The report also finds that consumer bodies should be empowered to request price control reviews in cases of excessive financial returns and ensuring balanced representation of consumer interests in regulatory decisions.

ENDS

This news story relates to England, Scotland and Wales only.

[1] Warm This Winter Tariff Watch: Gas Networks Report (March 2024): Download the full report.

[2] The Bank of England inflation calculator suggests that a solely inflationary linked increase in these costs would be from £118 to £139 – 18% increase.

[3] End Fuel Poverty Coalition records: https://www.endfuelpoverty.org.uk/about-fuel-poverty/ofgem-price-cap/ 

[4] Gas network owners:

The gas transmission network (described as the “motorway of the gas network”) is run by National Gas, which is owned by a consortium 80% of Macquarie Asset Management, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, and National Grid plc (20%). 

Macquarie Group, an Australian powerhouse in the financial services sector which also controls parts of the UK water and sewage network, has emerged as a dominant force in the global infrastructure sphere, most notably through its ownership of National Gas in the UK. The British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI) is a pivotal but relatively obscure financial institution managing the pensions of about 525,000 British Columbians. National Grid is one of the world’s largest utilities firms and is listed on the London stock exchange.

The gas distribution network (described as the “local roads of the gas network”) is ultimately owned by eleven firms:

Entity Type of firm (HQ) GDN Ownership Relevance
Qatar Investment Authority Sovereign wealth fund (Qatar) Owns stakes in critical infrastructure, including gas sectors.
Macquarie Asset Management Investment Manager (Australia) Macquarie invests and manages large numbers of global assets with a strong focus on infrastructure.  
Hermes Investment Management Private company – investment management (USA*) Investment Management firm that invests in a broad range of low risk assets. 
China Investment Corporation Sovereign wealth fund (China) Involved in owning critical infrastructure, focusing on energy sectors.
Allianz Capital Partners Private company – asset management (Germany) Specialises in infrastructure and renewable energy investments.
Brookfield Infrastructure Partners Public company – infrastructure management (Canada) Owns diversified infrastructure assets, including utilities.
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board Pension fund (Canada) Invests in a variety of sectors, including infrastructure, with a focus on stable, long-term returns.
Global Infrastructure Partners Private company – investment (USA) Manages a broad range of infrastructure assets; recent acquisition by BlackRock raises profile.
CK Hutchison Holdings & Affiliates Public company – conglomerate (Hong Kong / Cayman Islands) Owns a significant stake in utilities through multinational conglomerate structure.
Power Assets Holdings See above (Hong Kong) Part of the CK group, focuses on electricity generation, transmission, and distribution.
State Super Pension fund (Australia) Invests in critical infrastructure, including significant stakes in the aviation sector.
* Hermes Investment Management (registered in the UK) is owned by Federated Hermes, a US-based investment manager.

[5] Described by critics as a “vampire kangaroo”, in 2022, Southern faced allegations of “environmental vandalism” for releasing untreated sewage continuously for over 3,700 hours at 83 bathing water beaches in just the first eight days of November. The repercussions of a substantial debt load and potentially insufficient investment during the Australian company’s ownership of Thames Water continue to linger, with ongoing incidents of sewage leaks contaminating waterways, impacting farms and residences, and causing harm to wildlife years after the company divested its remaining stake in Thames Water.

Reaction to Spring 2024 Budget

The latest financial statement from the Chancellor failed to meet in full any of the recommendations set out by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition in its budget submission.

While the energy firms Windfall Tax and the Household Support Fund were both extended for limited periods, other support measures end on the 31 March.

The budget also contained no new funding for energy efficiency support.

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition commented:

“What we needed from the Chancellor was a long term plan for warm homes and cheaper energy, but instead the government has condemned families to another winter in cold homes and has failed to fund reform to Britain’s broken energy system.

“The government is pulling the plug on support for households in fuel poverty. The Energy Price Guarantee and the cost of living payments now join the Energy Bills Support Scheme on a bonfire of policies that were helping people with surging energy bills. The Household Support Fund will be extended, but only for another 6 months – ending before next winter sets in. 

“But as this support is axed, the price households pay for their energy is still 60% higher than in 2021 and levels of energy debt are soaring. Meanwhile the wider cost of living crisis means people simply can’t afford to keep the lights on.

“While the extension of the Windfall Tax is a recognition that the energy crisis is not over, economists estimate that it has actually shaved £18bn off the cost of extracting fossil fuels over next three years by increasing energy firms’ tax relief allowances. This loophole must be closed.”

Jonathan Bean, from Fuel Poverty Action added:

“Removing the loopholes in windfall taxes on huge energy firm profits would fund essential energy for all.

Warm This Winter spokesperson Fiona Waters said:

“Today’s budget is a waste of energy that will still leave millions out in the cold.

“There’s some cold comfort in the extension of the Housing Support Fund but it will barely make a dent in the huge debt ordinary people have now built up as they struggle to pay sky high bills that are still 60% more than three years ago.

“Families, pensioners, children and the poor are freezing as energy companies make a billion pounds in profit each and every week.”

Will Walker from Warm This Winter campaign members Ashden, commented on X that the budget was “barren” and that:

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the last decade from Government is dither, delay and division on net zero. This has undermined business and investor confidence, weakened supply chains and added to UK energy bills.”

Joanna Elson CBE, chief executive of Independent Age, said:

“Today’s Budget was a missed opportunity to help those in later life already living in financial hardship and address the incoming pensioner poverty surge. Cutting National Insurance won’t help the more than 2 million older people living in poverty, or the many more living with precarious finances struggling to make ends meet. Transformative change is needed to improve their lives.

“While the lower energy price cap and the increased State Pension are welcome, there is still a long way to go for older people in financial insecurity to be able to afford even the basics. Bills are still astronomically high, and our helpline hears daily from older people rationing themselves to just one meal a day and washing in cold water to save energy.

“The cost-of-living payments have ended and older people in financial hardship are already at breaking point. While the temporary extension of the Household Support Fund is welcome, long-term solutions are needed to protect them from high household costs. The UK Government needs to introduce a single energy social tariff and water social tariff. This would help shield people of all ages living on a low income, including older people, from high and unmanageable costs.

“Today, the UK Government reiterated its commitment to uprate Pension Credit, but it must now implement a strategic and targeted plan to get this money into eligible pockets. As the latest figures show that up to 880,000 households missed out, an uptake strategy is urgently needed to target those who need financial support but aren’t aware it exists or don’t know they are eligible.

“Pensioner poverty has been steadily rising since 2012. Sadly, nothing announced today will reverse this alarming trend. That’s why we need a cross-party review to establish an adequate minimum level of income needed to avoid poverty in later life. Until that happens, we risk seeing more older people fall into financial hardship.”

Image credit: Warm This Winter / © Jess Hurd

Energy bills crisis has cost the average household £2,300 each

The average household has spent £2,300 more on energy bills since April 2021 than they would have done had prices remained stable. [1]

The data takes into account the Government support schemes that were set up to help households and means that, across the whole country, the additional spend by households on energy over the last three years totals more than £68bn.

The new figures calculated by the End Fuel Poverty Coalition come as Ofgem has lowered the price cap by around 12% for domestic energy bills.

However, the new cap level means that gas and electricity costs remain 60% higher than in 2021 when the energy bills crisis began. [2] 

Meanwhile, households are still struggling in record levels of debt, with over 3 million households owing money to their energy firm.

New research by YouGov for the Stop The Squeeze campaign found that 61% of respondents – including 70% of Conservative voters – chose energy bill support as one of the interventions they would most like to see. [3]

Energy bill support was found to be more than twice as popular as cuts to taxes on wages (29%) and has gained in popularity among voters since the last time the research was conducted in July 2023.

However, the Government is set to end both the Energy Price Guarantee and the Household Support Fund on 31 March 2024. 

The Energy Price Guarantee currently protects households from fluctuating global energy markets and could also be used to introduce an Emergency Energy Tariff to help those struggling the most with the high cost of energy.

The Household Support Fund provides local authorities with additional resources to help communities most hit by high energy bills, with 26 million grants given by councils to households struggling to afford the essentials. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition was recently among 120 organisations that signed a letter to the Chancellor calling for the Fund to be extended by at least another year.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“Even after this latest change to the price cap, energy prices remain 60% higher than they were before the energy bills crisis began.  

“Three years of staggering energy bills have placed an unbearable strain on household finances up and down the country. Household energy debt is at record levels, millions of people are living in cold damp homes and children are suffering in mouldy conditions.  

“Everybody can see what is happening in Britain’s broken energy system and it is time for politicians to unite to enact the measures needed to end fuel poverty. This includes cross-party consensus on a long-term plan to help all households upgrade their homes and short-term financial support for households most in need.”

Megan Davies from Stop the Squeeze said:

“The fact that the public appetite for energy bill support is rising, not falling, should be a wake up call to the government that the cost of living crisis is far from over.

“Any fall in the price cap is of course welcome, but it is no substitute for the structural reform to the energy market that is needed to guarantee more affordable clean power into the future.

“This Budget could be the government’s last opportunity before the election to listen to the public and show they are serious about taking action on energy bills.”

Warm This Winter campaign spokesperson Fiona Waters commented:

“It’s clear Britain’s energy system is broken with a few firms making obscene profits while ordinary people suffer and household energy debt at record levels. What’s worse, millions, including the elderly and children, are living in unhealthy cold damp mouldy homes. 

“People are tired of this constant cycle and want action. What politicians should be focussed on is bringing down energy bills through a proper programme of insulating homes and investing in cheap and abundantly available renewable energy.”

ENDS

[1] £2,300 and £68bn figures calculated as below. Price cap at 30 March 2021 was £1,042 for the average household. All figures based on Ofgem data. Average household energy bill levels include the relevant Energy Price Guarantee and Energy Bills Support Scheme payments where appropriate (the £52bn net cost of those measures are also borne by the taxpayer). Cap data is based on the prevailing typical domestic consumption values at the time – as set by Ofgem.

Cap change date Average household energy bill (GBP) Amount above GBP1,042 per household weighted for the number of months in price cap period (e.g. annual amount above cap halved for periods starting 1-Apr-21, but then quartered for periods from 1-Apr-23) All households
01-Oct-20 £    1,042 Baseline   
01-Apr-21 £    1,138 £                                48  
01-Oct-21 £    1,277 £                              118  
01-Apr-22 £    1,971 £                              465  
01-Oct-22 £    2,100 £                              529  
01-Apr-23 £    2,500 £                              365  
01-Jul-23 £    2,074 £                              258  
01-Oct-23 £    1,834 £                              198  
01-Jan-24 £    1,928 £                              222  
01-Apr-24 £    1,690 £                              162  
TOTAL   £                           2,363 £  68,527,000,000

[2] End Fuel Poverty Coalition records based on Ofgem price cap announcements and (in italics) Cornwall Insight predictions (last checked 16 Feb 2024)

Cap change date Increase (GBP) Average household energy bill (GBP) % increase from last period YOY change Change from Pre-Energy Bill Crisis Change from Pre-Ukraine Invasion
Pre-cap   1067        
01-Oct-17 -19 1048 -1.78      
01-Apr-18 41 1089 3.91      
01-Oct-18 47 1136 4.31 8.40%    
01-Apr-19 117 1254 10.39      
01-Oct-19 -75 1179 -5.98 3.79%    
01-Apr-20 -17 1162 -1.44%      
01-Oct-20 -120 1042 -10.33% -11.62%    
01-Apr-21 96 1138 9.21%      
01-Oct-21 139 1277 12.21% 22.55% 22.55%  
01-Apr-22 693 1971 54.35%      
01-Oct-22 129 2100 6.54% 64.45% 101.54% 64.45%
01-Apr-23 400 2500 26.84%      
01-Jul-23 -426 2074 -17.04% 5.23% 99.04% 62.41%
01-Oct-23 -240 1,834 -11.57% -12.67% 76.01% 43.62%
01-Jan-24 94 1,928 5.13% -8.19% 85.03% 50.98%
01-Apr-24 -238 1,690 -12.34% -32.40% 62.19% 32.34%
01-Jul-24 -193 1,497 -11.42% -27.82% 43.67% 17.23%
01-Oct-24 44 1,541 2.94% -15.98% 47.89% 20.67%

 

[3] YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,186 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th – 16th February 2024. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

 

Fuel poverty statistics reveal households hit hard by energy bills crisis

New data published by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has revealed that a surge in the numbers of households spending more than 10% of their income on energy in England.

The number of households who are required to spend more than 10% of their income after housing costs on domestic energy has risen to 36.4% of households (8.9 million households) up from 27.4% in 2022 (6.7 million).

Meanwhile, the average fuel poverty gap (which measures the additional money a household would need to be lifted out of fuel poverty) has increased by 66% between 2020 and 2023 in real terms, due to rising energy prices.

E3G UK energy lead, Juliet Phillips, explained that for those already in fuel poverty, things have got significantly harder:

“It is shameful that in a country as wealthy as England, so many households cannot afford to heat their homes to a healthy and comfortable level. New statistics show that no progress has been made in reducing fuel poverty rates in the past year, and that for those struggling to pay their energy bills, things have gotten a lot worst.

“We have seen a concerning inertia from the government over the last year on action to upgrade homes. This included a U-turn on the planned increase in energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector, and a significant under-delivery of the retrofit schemes designed to alleviate fuel poverty.

“If the UK is to have any chance of meeting its statutory target to end fuel poverty by 2030, a long-term plan is needed to rebuild confidence in supply chains: backed by investment and regulations to drive action to deliver warmer homes across the country.”

The statistics also show that households in the private rented sector are at the highest risk of fuel poverty. This follows Rishi Sunak’s U-turn on the planned uplift to minimum efficiency standards in the sector last year.

Jonathan Bean, spokesperson for Fuel Poverty Action, commented:

“Fuel poverty rates are highest in private rentals so the Government’s lack of commitment to improved standards will continue to harm millions.

“In addition, electric-only homes have the highest fuel poverty rates due to the four times higher price of electricity compared to gas, due to our rigged energy market which the Government and Ofgem have failed to reform.

“It is time to admit Government and Ofgem policies have completely failed, and a more radical solution to fuel poverty is needed – Energy For All.  This would eradicate fuel poverty now, rather than allowing millions to suffer in cold damp homes for another decade.”

The statistics show that there were an estimated 13.0 per cent of households (3.17 million) in fuel poverty in England under Ministers’ preferred measure of fuel poverty, known as the Low Income Low Energy Efficiency (LILEE) metric in 2023. This number is effectively unchanged from 13.1 per cent in 2022 (3.18 million).

A spokesperson for the End Fuel Poverty Coalition explained the limitations of this metric:

“Even these terrible figures don’t paint the true picture of the suffering in households across the UK.

“They exclude millions of homes in certain energy performance categories, fail to take into account soaring energy costs and also don’t include many people who actually get a Warm Home Discount to help with their bills.

“The reality is that household energy debt is at record levels, millions of people are living in cold damp homes and children are suffering in mouldy conditions.

“The wider impact of high energy bills is also clear to see with households having to cut back on spending so much that the UK has now entered a recession.”

Nearly 1 in five households in the West Midlands are classed as fuel poor. Meanwhile, in the South West, it would take an extra £634 to lift homes out of fuel poverty.

The latest National Energy Action (NEA) Fuel Poverty Monitor, developed with Energy Action Scotland and Gemserv, highlighted over 3 million UK households could be left in fuel poverty by the end of the decade, despite a legal requirement for no households in England to be living in fuel poverty by 2030.

Adam Scorer, Chief Executive of National Energy Action, added:

“At this rate, the government will miss its 2030 legal fuel poverty target by a country mile and millions will be stuck unable to afford to keep their homes and their families warm and well.”

New polling by YouGov for NEA shows that three in 10 (30%) GB adults say their household has found it difficult to afford to pay their energy bills in the past three months.

This has driven many to drastic ‘not coping strategies’ with 59% of British adults saying they had turned their thermostat down lower than they wanted, while 52% turned their heating off, even though it was cold inside the house.